Civic Science Sparks With…Ciencia Puerto Rico

April 5, 2023

Greetings Civic Science Community,

Early in the 2021–23 cohort of Civic Science Fellows, host partner Mónica Feliú Mójer of Ciencia Puerto Rico reminded us, “Change moves at the speed of trust.”  

For those of us in the civic science community, trust (and the lack of it) can point to areas in need of profound change—as I recently addressed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy with Sam Gill, President of the Doris Duke Foundation, building on ideas Sam discussed with Fellows in a Lab last year and discussions following.

Members of our community have been working with energy and intention, across disciplines, communities, and tools, to foster trust and trustworthiness at the intersections of science and civic life. Below, Mónica and Ciencia Puerto Rico Civic Science Fellow Andrea Isabel López share their work on reflexivity to help build transformative connection through communication. In other stories and resources shared below, we see work to build trust through data, attention to diversity and inclusion, regulatory systems, research, language, and more.

As many of the 2021–23 Fellows are transitioning to their next opportunities, we are also eager to continue and share a practice that has helped build muscles of trust and reflexivity within the Fellows community.

With appreciation, 

Elizabeth Christopherson
President and Chief Executive Officer, Rita Allen Foundation

Elizabeth Christopherson: How would you introduce yourself to the civic science network? 

Andrea Isabel López: I am a public health researcher and practitioner by training and have experience in science communication, education, and community-based participatory research. I’m currently serving as the Ciencia Puerto Rico Civic Science Fellow. Ciencia Puerto Rico is a global community of more than 16,000 scientists, students, educators, and allies who understand that science can empower people with the knowledge, capacity, and agency to improve their lives and society. Through our programs, we promote the civic engagement of our rich and diverse community to democratize science, transform science education and professional development, and put science in service of Puerto Rico. As a Civic Science Fellow, I am developing a workbook to walk researchers and practitioners through the practice of reflexivity. I am also working on a paper exploring the success and impact of Ciencia Puerto Rico’s culturally relevant communication in Puerto Rican media. 

Mónica Feliú Mójer: I am a bilingual scientist-turned-communicator. I combine my PhD training, personal background, and culture (a woman from a rural working-class community in Puerto Rico) to engage historically underserved and overlooked audiences, especially Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-speakers, with science. I serve as Director of Communications and Science Outreach for Ciencia Puerto Rico, which Andrea has already described. I also serve as Director of Inclusive Science Communication and Engagement for Science Communication Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using multimedia storytelling to engage the public, including educational and scientific communities, in the journey and wonder of science. My work encompasses multimedia science communication, community engagement, media relations, filmmaking, science advocacy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

My North Star is to uplift marginalized communities and create spaces and tools that facilitate diversity and representation in the sciences and academia.

—Andrea Isabel López, Ciencia Puerto Rico Civic Science Fellow

Elizabeth: What is the North Star that drives your civic science work and keeps you going in challenging moments? 

Andrea: My North Star is to uplift marginalized communities and create spaces and tools that facilitate diversity and representation in the sciences and academia. 

Mónica: My North Star is to put science in service of marginalized communities, especially in Puerto Rico.

Elizabeth: What are a few of the most promising aspects of your work developed during the Civic Science Fellowship? 

Andrea: During my time as a Civic Science Fellow, I had the privilege of focusing on reflexivity and how to communicate it to different audiences. Few people have the opportunity to immerse themselves in reflexivity full time and understand how to make use of this tool and communicate its effectiveness. After spending months exploring reflexivity, I find myself practicing it on a regular basis, especially in my day-to-day life outside of work. I find that I interact with people with a lot more humility and empathy and am a much better listener. And while I was familiar with reflexivity and knew how to practice it in my work, I wasn’t expecting to see it impact my life outside the fellowship. I hope that my work as a Civic Science Fellow helps people lead their work and personal lives with more empathy and humility.

“Practicing reflexivity, humility, and centering partners has been especially critical in my work engaging with community leaders in Puerto Rico, many of whom have realities, experiences, and backgrounds that are different from mine.”

—Mónica Feliú Mójer, Director of Communications and Science Outreach, Ciencia Puerto Rico

Elizabeth: What advice would you offer to others beginning new relationships and collaborative work to build momentum toward a culture of civic science? 

Mónica: Engage in reflexivity. Take the time to examine your beliefs, practices, reactions, and motives and how they influence what you do or think in a situation, how you relate to others. Practice humility and center your partners in the partnership or collaboration. Practicing reflexivity, humility, and centering partners has been especially critical in my work engaging with community leaders in Puerto Rico, many of whom have realities, experiences, and backgrounds that are different from mine. For example, one of my collaborators in Puerto Rico is Deaf. Before working with them, I had never met a Deaf person. Practicing reflexivity has allowed me to center their experiences to help me and my team create multimedia content and workshop experiences that are truly accessible and inclusive for Deaf people. It has also helped me realize how everything I do is shaped by my experiences as a hearing person, and recognize and redress mistakes and assumptions I make because of this. Working with Andrea has helped me deepen my understanding of reflexivity and how it is critical for inclusion.

Elizabeth: What would you highlight as key civic science opportunities, changes, or innovations that you see on the horizon that have the potential to transform science engagement? 

Andrea: I have been very encouraged with the overall curiosity around reflexivity and with people’s interest in learning more about how they can incorporate it into their work. Reflexivity is a great tool that can help us practice humility, cultivate dialogue with different audiences, facilitate co-creation and collaboration, and enhance community engagement efforts. And I think people see these benefits and see the value of leading with a reflexive attitude in their work. I’m optimistic about the uptake of reflexivity and about people’s willingness to explore its use in different contexts.

Mónica: I agree with Andrea. I am so excited about the workbook she has been creating and how it can be a tool for civic science. I hope the workbook can become a resource for the community and that reflexivity can become a core skill for civic science, science engagement, communication, and beyond.

Elizabeth: Would you share a meaningful experience, connection, or insight from engaging with the Civic Science Fellows program and community? How might this influence your work ahead?    

Andrea: The Civic Science Fellows program has introduced me to a field where I can reconcile many of my personal and professional interests and translate them into action. Interacting with the other Civic Science Fellows and with the wider civic science community has been really inspiring and has shown me successful examples of professionals to look up to and whose work I hope to emulate. It has also cemented my desire to pursue a career in science communication. Additionally, as a Puerto Rican living in the diaspora, this fellowship also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with CienciaPR, an organization I have looked up to and whose growth I have closely followed and celebrated. 

Mónica: The Civic Science Fellows Program has underscored the opportunities and challenges of being in an inter- and trans-disciplinary field like public engagement. A couple of important insights are the 1) importance of finding common ground to move towards a shared goal and 2) the value of spending time and being present to create meaningful connections with others.

Elizabeth: As you look toward the future, what is a Civic Science aspiration you might share?  

Andrea: As I continue to grow as a professional I hope to continue to explore the connections between public health, civic science, and science communication. There is a lot of potential for cross learning between these different disciplines and I think I am well positioned to explore the areas of opportunity. I would also like to take the lessons from this fellowship and this exploration to continue to advance representation and equity for Latine communities in academia and STEAM fields.  

Mónica: I hope that we do more to value and center the lived experiences of communities, especially those that have been and still are undervalued, overlooked, and sidelined by science. Those communities have immense wisdom and science knowledge, and we still have a ways to go to value and include them in academia, and in more privileged circles. I am hopeful that the work of the Civic Science Fellows and Partners will move us closer to realizing that aspiration.